Frank Tenney Johnson

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Frank Tenney Johnson
Born26 June 1874 (1874-06-26)
Died1 January 1939 (1939-02) (aged 64)
Pasadena, California, United States
Resting placeSan Gabriel Cemetery, San Gabriel, California, U.S.
EducationRichard Lorenz, Milwaukee School of Art, John Henry Twachtman, Art Students League of New York
Known forPainting, Illustrating
Notable workRiders of the Dawn, Somewhere on the Range

Frank Tenney Johnson (June 26, 1874 – January 1, 1939) was a painter of the Old American West, and he popularized a style of painting cowboys which became known as "The Johnson Moonlight Technique". Somewhere on the Range is an example of Johnson's moonlight technique. To paint his paintings he used knives, fingers and brushes.

Early life[edit]

Johnson was born in Pottawattamie County, Iowa to Abner Johnson[1] and Cordelia Rebecca Tenney. He was raised on his family's farm along the old Overland Trail, near Big Grove, Iowa (now known as Oakland, Iowa) in the Council Bluffs area, where his father raised cattle.[2] Johnson's early American ancestors were from England, Ireland, Wales, Denmark and Sweden.[citation needed] His Bascom ancestors were French Basque. Johnson's mother died in December 1886, and the family moved to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. He attended Oconomowoc High School in Oconomowoc.[3] In 1893, he enrolled in the Milwaukee School of Art (absorbed by Milwaukee State Normal School in 1913),[citation needed] where he studied with Richard Lorenz, a well-known painter of western subjects.[4] In 1895, Johnson moved to New York City, where he studied with John Henry Twachtman at the Art Students League of New York.[5]


The Joyous Troublemaker, an illustration designed by Johnson.

In his early career, he worked primarily as an illustrator.[6] He began working for Field & Stream magazine in 1904. He also illustrated for Boys' Life magazine.[7][8] [9] In addition to Field & Stream, he contributed to Cosmopolitan[10][11] and Harpers Weekly magazines,[12] and illustrated the Western novels of Zane Grey.[13]

Johnson lived permanently in New York City from 1904 until 1920, making numerous trips to the west to gather source material for his works that were completed in his New York studio.[14] In 1912 he joined cowboy artist Charles Russell on a sketching expedition to the Blackfoot Reservation east of Glacier National Park in Montana.[15] He lived and worked on the Lazy 7 Ranch in Hayden, Colorado for a while, where he gained the title "Cow-Puncher Artist."[16] Later he went southwest to work on painting Native Americans. In 1920, he moved to 22 Champion Place in Alhambra, California[17] where he shared a studio with Clyde Forsythe.[18] At this point Johnson's easel paintings became more popular than his illustrations so he concentrated in this medium. Together Johnson and Forsythe exhibited in the Biltmore Art Gallery started by Jack Wilkinson Smith at the Biltmore Hotel according to Edan Milton Hughes, Artists in California 1786 – 1940.

Between 1931 and 1939, he spent much of his time at his studio in Cody, Wyoming, just outside Yellowstone National Park. Many of his paintings were done there from studies inside the park. He has been called the "Master of American Moonlight Painting" and "Master Painter of the Old West."[19]

Attending a social event with his wife, Johnson happened to greet a socialite with a kiss on the cheek. Unfortunately, he contracted spinal meningitis from her with that kiss. She died a few days later, and then he died from the disease on New Year's Day 1939 in Pasadena, California.[20][21]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1923, Johnson was awarded the Samuel T. Shaw Purchase Prize at an exhibit at the Salmagundi Club of which he was a member.[22]

In 1932, Johnson was honored with membership in the National Academy of Design.[23]

In 1979, the Frank Tenney Johnson Memorial Invitational Art Show was held at the Gene Autry Hotel in Palm Springs, California.[24]


  1. ^ Memories and Other Rhymes. H.K. Fly Company. 1924.
  2. ^ The Outlook. Outlook Company. 1923.
  3. ^ "Frank Tenney Johnson". Museum of Wisconsin Art. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  4. ^ Conzelman, Adrienne Ruger (2002). After the Hunt: The Art Collection of William B. Ruger. Stackpole Books. p. 62. ISBN 9780811700375.
  5. ^ Artists in Santa Catalina Island Before 1945; essay by Jean Stern at
  6. ^ Cowboy: The Illustrated History. Sterling Publishing Company. February 2008. ISBN 9781402753695.
  7. ^ "Boys' Life". August 1913.
  8. ^ "Boys' Life". November 1919.
  9. ^ "Frank Tenney Johnson". National Museum of Wildlife Art. Archived from the original on December 2, 2013. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  10. ^ Cosmopolitan, Volume 44. Schlicht & Field. 1908. p. iii.
  11. ^ The Cosmopolitan, Volume 46. Schlicht & Field. 1908. p. 723.
  12. ^ Bonner, John; Curtis, George William; Alden, Henry Mills; Conant, Samuel Stillman; Schuyler, Montgomery; Foord, John; Davis, Richard Harding; Schurz, Carl; Nelson, Henry Loomis; Bangs, John Kendrick; Harvey, George Brinton Mcclellan; Hapgood, Norman (1913). Harper's Weekly, Volume 57. p. lxxviii.
  13. ^ "Frank Tenney Johnson". Nedra Matteucci Galleries. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  14. ^ El Palacio. Museum of New Mexico. 1918.
  15. ^ "Trouble on the Pony Express".
  16. ^ The Outlook. Outlook Company. 1923.
  17. ^ American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 5 November 2013. ISBN 9780374711047.
  18. ^ McCracken, Harold; Johnson, Frank Tenney (1974). The Frank Tenney Johnson book. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385078573.
  19. ^ Branding the American West: Paintings and Films, 1900–1950. University of Oklahoma Press. 17 February 2016. ISBN 9780806154121.
  20. ^ Solomon, Deborah (2013). American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell. Macmillan. p. 196. ISBN 9780374113094.
  21. ^ "Frank Tenney Johnson: A fatal kiss". 14 June 2015.
  22. ^ "Magazine of Art". 1923.
  23. ^ Conzelman, Adrienne Ruger (2002). After the Hunt: The Art Collection of William B. Ruger. Stackpole Books. p. 62. ISBN 9780811700375.
  24. ^ "Desert Sun 15 December 1978 — California Digital Newspaper Collection".

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